Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sut Nam 101 - Don't Drive Into the Lake

How To Find A Poem

Wake with a dream-filled head.
Stumble out into the morning,
barely aware of how the sun
is laying down strips of silver
after three days' rain,
of how the puddles
are singing with green.
Look up, startled
at the crackle of something large
moving through the underbrush.
Your pulse jumping,
gaze into its beautiful face.
The wary doe's body,
the soft flames of ears.
As it bounds away,
listen to the rhythm
of your own heart's disquiet.
Burn into memory
the white flag of its parting.
Before you return
to house and habit,
cast your eyes into the shadows,
where others stand waiting
on delicate hooves.


"We are so conditioned to believe we must become something before we can be happy.  This concept of always striving and becoming keeps us from being happy." (Yogic advice)

The poem above is from a new book called What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms, & Blessings, by Joyce Sidman paired with illustrations by Pamela Zagarenski.  I'm pretty sure it's supposed to be a children's book but what does that really mean?  I mean, we're all children inside.  When I forget that I become lost.


I've been writing this post for weeks in my head.  Like everything else there, it shifts from beast to beast by the hour.  Did you know my last post, the one about Alexandra Fuller, was Sut Nam Bonsai's 100th? It seemed an impossibly low number when I put it all together but then, when I thought about how many tens make up a hundred, I felt a little better about myself.  Okay, I've done something.  What a sad response to a milestone!  Did I do enough? 


I was going to write about finally reading Jonathan Franzen's essay about David Foster Wallace's suicide, Farther Away, in the book of the same title, but I just got back from AWP (a big writing conference, for you non-writer peeps) and feel like it might be tragic to discuss something so unfairly obvious as two white male narcissists, er, writers!, at a time when issues of diversity are being so elegantly raised by others.  For instance, this New York Times piece on Toni Morrison poked me in the side, peeling back just one shade of my ignorance as a writer and human being, and this analysis of systematic racism and what we can do as individuals to get better was helpful to me.

Instead of discussing Franzen, I will just tell you a few things:

1) Samantha turned one year old this week. 

2) Writers are kind of a neurotic lot.  We took Samantha with us to the conference and it was wonderfully grounding to have built-in breaks between panels and readings.  As difficult as it can be to be present with another being's needs all day long, there is something great, too, about getting my head out of my bum and into the world again.  I prefer when there is a mix of the two, though, both intellectual activity and baby-wrangling, and find myself most fulfilled as a mother when I am around other people who can entertain my social child, and I get to just be around.  I know this isn't the definition of motherhood: just show up every now and then!  No no no no.  But it does happen like that sometimes, and when it does, I am happy.

 
I'm not saying I'm not happy at other times, but it takes a bit more spiritual Kung-fu-ery to get there at those times.  And yes, Kung-fu-ery is a word.



It's hard to believe what I'm about to tell you about originated when we only had a dog to take care of, but it's true, it did.  It happened a long time ago.  One day when Tim had been at work all day and I had been home writing, Bear had for some reason driven me bananas.  Maybe there was a thunderstorm - not his best time, zen-wise - or maybe he had not been satisfied by the amount of exercise I had given him.  Whatever it was, at the end of the day when Tim got home, he sat the dog down and told him that days like that were the reason moms drove station wagons full of children into lakes. 

Now that I have a child, even writing this down sounds impossibly morbid, like how could we joke about a thing?  It was hilarious at the time.  We used that joke a lot.  Being on the brink of a minor meltdown, like if we were simply hungry or the living room was unusually messy, we would say something like, I'm about to drive the station wagon into the lake!


We said those things when we only had ourselves to take care of, when we were really hungry but did not also have a baby pulling down the neck of our shirt, a baby who was also really hungry and being repeatedly vocal about that hunger while needing a diaper change, in public.  Now I get how some moms just drive the car into the lake.  I'm not saying I would, or that it sounds remotely like a solution to my life.  Does my life even need a solution right now?  (Where am I going with this?)  What I'm saying is, now I get how it's possible to get to the brink of terrible things.  The divide between being at the end of your rope and letting go of that rope is still, thankfully, wide enough to locate, but since becoming a parent, I've approached the end of that rope plenty of times.  The key, I think, is just to hang on?

Actually, I don't know what the key is, honestly.  That joke isn't as funny as it used to be.  We do not have a station wagon, though.  Phew!






I hate to say it, but this does link back to my original impulse to bring up Jonathan Franzen, or J. Fran as we call him in our house.  His essay about David Foster Wallace was a little controversial I guess - like everything else in that man's life.  I guess some people thought he was capitalizing on his friend's fame.  Maybe others were upset about the actual content in the essay.  I don't know have all the ins and outs, which is sloppy of me, I realize.  Without doing a whole research report on the thing, I just wanted to say that I appreciate how scathing the essay is at times, not because suicide needs to be judged harshly but because Wallace's decision affected the people who loved him in a very real way.


For those of you who haven't read Farther Away (that sounds more indicting than I mean it to! I hope you are reading books of children's poetry or The Hobbit or cd liner notes, whatever), Franzen goes on a trip to both watch birds and scatter some of Wallace's ashes, to mourn him appropriately and stop fleeing his own grief about his friend's suicide.  In the essay, he recalls how Wallace was not interested in what to Franzen had become an unexpected but life-saving passion, and that was birding. 

I have had this own experience, personally, where nature - or The Nature, as, I think it was Dave Barry, wrote - inevitably pulls me from whatever swirl of mental turmoil I have happened to cook up that day and pools my energy back in my feet, planting me back on the earth.  Wallace couldn't get there, had no interest in something as banal and spectacular as a bright little bird, and while this doesn't mean anything for you and me necessarily, I appreciated Franzen's willingness to point it out, and to be angry with his friend for what he essentially decides became an ego move: choosing Cobain-like artistic immortality over the broken, messy, and very real relationships in his life. 

That's all.  I wish I had more.  I heard some wonderful writers speak this week.  I saw old friends and wheeled my baby around Minneapolis, discovering once more how that girl adores wind.  It's like a long-lost friend.  She squeals and gasps and grins when it blows in her face.  I ate very little except peanut butter, apples, raisins, and coffee.  You can eat coffee, right?  Now that I'm home, I'm trying to correct that.  For instance, I'm eating ice cream right now.  I'm ready to sort through all the information I gathered and weed out some of the more intense and less helpful information that is inevitably offered when so many cranial-minded folks gather in one spot.  Buzz buzz buzz buzz. 

Working it out, kids!  One day at a time - no station wagons in sight.

XOXO,
Kara



2 comments:

  1. Kara,

    I remember when I heard the news about David Foster Wallace's death. It is hard to find light in such an end, and yet Donald Antrim, a fellow writer. recounted David calling him to offer advice and consolation regarding Donald's wrestling with whether or not to receive electroconvulsive therapy for his depression. Donald was fearful he would lose his voice, his gift as a writer. David shared his own experience of the treatment and convinced Donald to try it and it yielded positive results for Donald. It is just a little light, I suppose. I think I read of this in the NYT Book Review.

    Elizabeth Gilbert, of Eat, Pray, Love acclaim, had a TED talk whiere she sought to dispel the myth of the tortured artist if for no other reason than to remove it as a totem for younger makers. I applaud her efforts, but I do think that many artists' ability to deeply identify with others' feelings, to pay attention to the suffering in the world, can lend itself toward allowing too much of the darkness near.

    Robert Hass - his poem Meditations at Lagunitas: 'Longing, we say, because desire is full of endless distances.'

    Hopefully, with some attention to craft and perseverance, those distances between the hoped for and the imagined things may close.

    My best to you and your family. I hope your memoir writing continues to open well, and that your novel finds a good route into people's hands. Thank you again for the brief exchange at Water Street, I have been remiss in sharing longer posts about my journey and what I am hoping to find. Our conversation has encouraged me to remedy that.

    I rode nearly seventy miles today, the last of it through rain and some worrisome lightning, but all is well. Now the only sounds are deer snorts from across the swale and the plucked arrowstrings of amorous frogs.

    Best to you. Adieu.

    Aaron Nell

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    1. Aaron,

      So glad you made it safe and I enjoyed catching up on your mission in Lansing! I love that TED talk of Elizabeth Gilbert's, and especially think you are right that sensitivity has many boons, and it takes skill to refine the filter and protect, honor, attend a delicate system.

      This is all to say, thanks for reading and leaving a note! Some day perhaps there will be fruits to share from the documents on my computer. It was fun to dish memoir, and non-fiction, and long, devotional projects, indeed.

      Keep on trucking,
      Kara

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